An­i­mated film tries to solve Balkan wars dark rid­dle

‘Chris the Swiss’ mov­ing el­egy for doomed youth

Arab Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

PARIS, June 14, (AFP): Anja Kofmel was only 10 when her cousin Chris, an ad­ven­turer who she hero-wor­shipped, was found shot in the head in a snow-fringed field in Croatia.

As she grew up, the Swiss an­i­ma­tor be­came fas­ci­nated by how an ide­al­is­tic young reporter some­how ended up in a Croa­t­ian para­mil­i­tary unit ac­cused of the eth­nic cleans­ing of Serb vil­lagers as the for­mer Yu­goslavia fell apart.

Kofmel’s new film about her cousin, “Chris the Swiss” — which is show­ing this week at the world’s top an­i­ma­tion fes­ti­val in An­necy, France — has been hailed by the Hol­ly­wood Reporter as a “stir­ring sus­pense­ful and mov­ing el­egy for doomed youth”.

But it also raises un­com­fort­able ques­tions about what ex­actly Chris­tian Wurten­berg was up to and about the shad­owy in­volve­ment of the Catholic group Opus Dei in the war. Kofmel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the strange and murky world in which her cousin died not only re­opened old wounds for her fam­ily but also led her to the jailed ter­ror­ist “Car­los the Jackal” — Ilich Ramirez Sanchez — and ul­ti­mately on the trail of a hitman who tried to over­throw Bo­li­vian Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales in 2009.

Throb­bing in the back­ground was the knowl­edge that Bri­tish pho­tog­ra­pher Paul Jenks — who had also tried to find an­swers about her cousin’s mur­der — ended up with a bul­let in his head.

Kofmel be­gins the steadily dark­en­ing story from a child’s point of view, us­ing an­i­ma­tion as well as in­ter­views with war re­porters and for­mer mer­ce­nar­ies and vol­un­teers who fought with Wurten­berg in the Croa­t­ian First Pla­toon of In­ter­na­tional Vol­un­teers (PIV) near Osi­jek in the win­ter of 1991. “I looked up to him, Chris was my hero,” Kofmel told AFP. “He was my big cousin who was an ad­ven­tur­ous ex­cit­ing guy for a lit­tle girl like me.

“Later I re­alised he was not just black and white.”


Us­ing his diaries and notes, the film re­con­structs her cousin’s path from be­ing a green­horn jour­nal­ist fil­ing re­ports on the war for Swiss pub­lic ra­dio to his fate­ful meet­ing with Ed­uardo Rozza Flores, aka “Chico”, a for­mer KGB trainee who set up the PIV with a mot­ley crew of far-right ac­tivists drawn to de­fend “Catholic Croatia” from Slo­bo­dan Milo­se­vic’s Ser­bia.

Chico, a mys­te­ri­ous Hun­gar­ian-Bo­li­vian whose father was a friend of Che Gue­vara, is the film’s dark heart. Like Wurten­berg, he ap­par­ently came to Croatia to try his hand as a reporter be­fore quickly re­al­is­ing he pre­ferred mak­ing war to cov­er­ing it.

Kofmel sus­pects her cousin was killed by Chico when he dis­cov­ered that he had joined his unit to ex­pose the atroc­i­ties it was com­mit­ting.

“Chris was try­ing to write a book. I can see it from his notes. We don’t have his man­u­script. I don’t know if he was close to find­ing some­thing, or if there was a huge story.

“I know cer­tain things. Chico was a mem­ber of Opus Dei. I think this is why Chris­tian died, I think he wanted to prove that they were be­ing fi­nanced by Opus Dei,” she said.

Kofmel, how­ever, has no proof to back her the­ory. “I didn’t find any­one who ad­mit­ted that they paid for the weapons for those mas­sacres. I have some hints, and Opus Dei priests came to see them, but not more.

“In war it doesn’t take much to get killed. Maybe there was some­one who didn’t like him,” Kofmel added. How­ever, Car­los the Jackal — a friend of Chico’s — told her from his prison cell in France that her cousin was killed be­cause he was Swiss spy.

The only per­son who re­ally knows, Chico, brought his se­crets to the grave. He was killed by Bo­li­vian spe­cial forces in a ho­tel room in Santa Cruz in 2009 where they said he was plot­ting with far-right Croa­t­ian ex­iles to kill Pres­i­dent Mo­rales.

De­spite spend­ing years chas­ing down clues, Kofmel said much about her cousin — and his death — re­mains hazy. “On the one hand he was a very smart guy and on the other I won­der if he was re­ally aware of what he was get­ting into. I don’t get him still,” she said.

“I think what drove him was the ques­tion of how hu­mans can be so vi­o­lent and cruel. How can neigh­bours one day start killing each other? It is not just the Croats and the Serbs, it’s all of us. Civil­i­sa­tion is so thin. We don’t like to think about it, but we have this po­ten­tial for bru­tal­ity.”

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